by Lauren Allen
Sunday, July 14th, 2013 – the first day of vacation. We had spent so many vacations at the cabin in New Hampshire. So many good memories were made there …until that day.
It started off just like past “first days” at the cabin. Mom and Dad were busy cleaning up the outside so we could enjoy the rest of the week. Maggie, Kelsey, and Sidney were all playing on the dock in their lifejackets, fighting over whose turn it was to use the rope swing. I remember feeling sick that morning and had trouble sleeping the night before. I went outside for a few minutes to see what everyone was up to, and then went back upstairs to lie down for a while.
As I went downstairs later, I remember hearing the bathroom door shut. I looked out the screen door and saw Dad power washing the house, Mom cleaning the gutters, and Maggie and Kelsey on the dock. But where was Sidney? I asked Mom and remember her saying, “I think she went inside”. I did a quick look around the living room but she wasn’t there. I figured she was either in the part of the yard I couldn’t see from the screen door, or she was playing with the girls. I looked for her out of the upstairs window but still didn’t see her. After searching the whole cabin, there was still no sign of her. I remember going out onto the deck and yelling, “Where is Sidney?”
Once we all realized she was missing, everyone began searching and yelling her name. I remember scanning the lake, looking for a little yellow lifejacket, and thinking ‘She has her lifejacket on; she probably just floated down to the neighbors’, because that would be just like Sidney. I started looking up by the dirt road and scanning neighbor’s yards and docks. I had walked about 100 yards down the road when I heard my mom scream.
Those 100 yards felt like the longest run in the world. The next thing I saw left me speechless and afraid…it plays over and over in my head. I saw my baby sister spread out on the deck of the cabin, my Dad trying to revive her, my Mom with her face to the deck begging God for a miracle, and my two little sisters crying on the steps. I hugged my sisters as tight as I could and made them look away. I remember my Dad looking up at me, and in that moment, I knew there was no happy ending to this vacation.
I rushed the girls up to the bedroom, where I shut the door and turned on the TV to try and calm them. I told them that everything was going to be OK and that the doctors were going to help Sidney. Once they had calmed down some, I snuck out onto the balcony overlooking the deck…and I wish I hadn’t. There were my parents, just how I had left them, with my precious baby sister in her pink tutu swimsuit and princess water shoes. She had blue marks on her face and looked as cold as ice. I remember saying out loud to myself that she was going to start coughing and sit up and that everything was going to be OK. The medics arrived and started taking her clothes off to hook up machines. I couldn’t watch any more. Both my parents ran into the bedroom to change, hugged the girls and me, telling us it would be OK, then left in the ambulance.
A neighbor stayed with the girls while I called my older siblings and my grandparents. Within 45 minutes my brothers were at the cabin. There was nothing we could do but sit and wait. It felt like time had frozen. I don’t remember how long we sat in that living room, but sometime later I heard two car doors shut. My brothers met my Dad and a lady from the town church at the door, and all I remember hearing is my Dad very quietly saying, “She didn’t make it”.
The Blur of Grief
All we could do was hug each other and cry together. Dad told us that Mom hadn’t been ready to leave the hospital, so he was going back to get her. Shortly after he left, the pastor and elders from our church arrived. Then my older sister and more cars full of family and friends. No words could be said, there were just hugs to be given and tears to be shed. When my Dad returned with my Mom, the decision was made to pack up our things and head home. With everybody’s help, we were on our way home within half an hour. I remember feeling numb the whole time. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted Sidney.
The week after Sidney died was all a blur to me. Actually, the whole year after Sidney died was a blur. I don’t remember much except just trying to keep up with school. I remember feeling like people outside my family had forgotten about Sidney. It was easy for me to feel this way because my family and I dealt with her loss every day (and still do). Because of our age difference, many people don’t realize that Sidney and I were best friends. She was my little Sid and I was her Wauren; she was my go-to dance partner and cuddle bug. Every single night for the last year and a half of her life, she would carry all her binkies, blankets, stuffed dogs and sippy cup into my room and climb into bed with me after everyone else was asleep. Most of the time, I wouldn’t even know she was next to me until I woke up in the morning.
The few times I heard her come in were summer nights when she would trip over the fan at the end of my bed. On cold nights I miss my little heater with all of her blankets. Sometimes I wake up from a dream and think she’s really there in bed with me.
The Girl Sidney Was
So who was little Sidney Joy, exactly? Well, for those of you who never had the pleasure of knowing her, she was her middle name in human form: Joy. She was a little class clown, always making everyone laugh. Wherever she went, there were smiles. Sidney loved to dance, to any kind of music that was playing. That little girl had moves! For some reason, she loved the song “Call Me Maybe”. Usually not something you hear a three-year-old singing, but it made everyone laugh.
She loved watching TV, but only if she had someone to cuddle up to. Her favorite shows were Curious George, Shaun the Sheep, and Wallace and Grommet, although she called them “Shaun the Sheeps and Wallace and Wommet”. She was a little “mommy” to all her stuffed doggies and anyone younger or shorter than her. Two of her best friends were a little boy named Andrew from our church, and her nephew Nate, who is only 8 days younger than her. It warms my heart that both boys still think and talk about their best friend Sidney. Honestly, it puts a smile on my face when anyone talks about Sidney. It’s comforting and lets me know that people still think about her. So, if a memory of Sidney ever comes to your mind please don’t hesitate to share. I will warn you that I may cry…but it’s a good kind of crying.
Sidney loved to swim; she was a fish and would spend hours in the tub. She loved her footy pajamas, and if you were at our house around bedtime, you were definitely getting a goodnight hug. She always wanted someone to lay with her at bedtime, too. Countless nights and nap times I fell asleep in her bed.
Sidney made our family fun. She kept us laughing and smiling. She was a big part of our joy.
What happens when that beautiful little ray of sunshine is removed from the picture? When you lose your joy? Life becomes dark and sad. Smiles fade and laughter turns to silence. Passion you once had, for anything and everything, becomes nonexistent. Life appears pointless and painful. Your only thoughts are “What’s the point?” and “How could an all-powerful and all-loving God allow me to go through this much pain?”
Where is God When it Hurts?
How do you learn to smile again? How do you learn to have joy again? How do I fill this huge, Sidney-sized, hole in my heart? It definitely has not been an easy thing for me to learn, and believe me, I am still learning and struggling. You have to find your joy in the One above. The One who knows exactly how you are feeling. The God who never left your side, and is hurting with you. He knows the pain of losing someone you love. This is, of course, easier said than done. How do you find joy or hope in the one person that could have prevented you from going through all this pain? You trust that what He has in mind is best. I have thought over and over about the things I could have done differently the day Sidney died; things that may have kept her alive.
Yet the truth is, it wasn’t my decision. God made the decision and said, “Her time is done here; it’s time for her to come home”. He called HIS little girl home. Learning to accept his decision is, no doubt, the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Many days I still struggle with it. In my heart, though, I know God has a reason for everything. If even one person is led to Christ or sees the love of God for the first time, because of Sidney’s death, it will all have been worth it.
In the second part of this article, which will run Wednesday, Lauren shares some practical ways of supporting and helping a grieving friend – as well as some cautionary insights. I am extremely grateful to her for her willingness to share her story, and encourage others who are grieving a loss or want to help someone who is.